Colm O'Rourke: Cork have ability but lack direction
Every final in the GAA should be about counties of similar strength and preparation playing each other. A Munster final at the moment does not stand up to that scrutiny. When Cork play Kerry it is usually an unequal struggle. Kerry win most of the time. There have been occasions when Cork could assemble a force to drive up to Killarney and beat up the Kerrymen, steal some of their women and scatter their cattle before making off across the border with wine, women and song.
It happened in Billy Morgan's time as manager. There was no fear of Kerry then. In fact, it was the other way around and Kerry in the late 1980s were wondering would they ever see a day of milk and honey again. Now the wheel has turned much too far and Kerry beat Cork as a matter of course. It is no good for either as healthy competition only survives as healthy competition if both sides have their turn on top.
This is not then a final of equals. Both sides have quality players but there is a major difference in funding, preparation and the importance attached to the game in both counties. Kerry players are almost exclusively county men, the pursuit of Sam is all-engrossing and getting ready for this big match and indeed every game is down to a fine art. It is one where club football interferes little in the build-up. A Kerry player is a county man at this time of year. When the season at county level is over he is expected to go back to his club and lead from the front, but for now the emphasis is firmly on the green and gold.
Cork are miles away from this scene. They train with the county team but play club as well. I read last week that Peadar Healy, the Cork manager, was hoping that some matches involving county men a couple of weeks ago would be called off, but the clubs said no. I am not making a judgement here and I do think that ensuring a competitive club scene is a better indication of health and well-being within that county. It is hard to argue otherwise, the majority should be catered for.
In many ways this is a philosophical argument. In Kerry the county team is king, it is certainly not so in Cork and it is not nearly the most important code in the county either. Put hurling, rugby and soccer in there and football might come out third or fourth in terms of public importance, especially so now as the hurlers are creating a storm with a bright young team which the youth of Cork have really latched on to.
A few years ago, at the last Munster final in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, I gave Cork a right lashing about their performance. It was a bit similar in the game against Tipperary a few weeks ago. People mentioned to me that I must be sore at Cork as I had backed them, but nothing could be further from the truth. My two golden rules of betting are never bet on Cork or on any Ulster match.
What is alarming about Cork recently has been their lack of fight. That has nothing to do with anything other than what is inside a man. There is no doubt that good preparation and a well-thought-out game-plan puts players at ease and helps them to give more. Against Tipperary in Páirc Uí Rinn, Cork were a mess for the whole of the first half. They allowed Tipp to take short kick-outs and looked disorganised. That was a management issue. Whoever changed plans at half-time should get the plaudits for the final result as a more committed hard-working side emerged to play into the wind.
The thought struck me that there was a very good team trying to break out. If the Cork players were managed really well and prepared in a very professional way like Kerry, then we could have a right good game. As it is Cork are trying to take on Kerry with one arm tied behind their backs. That second half against Tipperary demonstrated clearly that Cork have the players to make an outstanding team if they were given a right chance to do so. That is an internal issue.
Meanwhile, Kerry play on and could not care less about Cork's travails. Kerry have a short-term focus on today but they are also looking ahead and working out from these skirmishes what their team in Croke Park will be like. So this is an audition for bigger days. They have their own share of problems, particularly in the backs and maybe the full-back line in particular. From midfield up they will have Moran, Maher, a couple of Geaneys, Walsh and James O'Donoghue who should be fighting fit. There is enough there to put them in the pot for the All-Ireland and they have a panel as well as a team.
Kerry generally don't take chances when it comes to Cork. They know that pride in the red jersey can overcome a lot of shortcomings. Eamonn Fitzmaurice has rebuilt this team with probably one side in mind - Dublin - as he expects that to win an All-Ireland he will have to silence the big dog. So the players get the best of everything: food, nutrients, gear and an insulation from battling it out in club league matches with players who would like to take them on. There is a short route to Croke Park. Win today and even if there is a long wait for the quarter-final it is a whole lot better than where Kerry fully intend to send Cork. A misguided tour of Ireland.
If Cork could seize the rebel spirit that the hurlers have brought to the table they would get support and their pride back. Which comes first, the support or the battling performance? Cork travel in hope and are short of confidence, but sooner or later a really good management team will unleash their full potential. Hopefully it will be today and Peadar Healy might become the Jeremy Corbyn of the Southern Republic. A win is a necessity for Kerry but Cork need to stand up and fight. It might be asking too much for Cork to win but maybe the fire could be ready to break out.
Sunday Indo Sport